Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Times of Difficulty for Catholicism

On pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, one of our Diocesan priests was walking alone when he saw a girl waiting for a group to join. They started walking together and he introduced himself as a priest to put her at ease. She called him by his first name, which was Peter. Every time she introduced him to others, it was always Peter from Korea. On his return to Korea, he mentioned to some Irish priests about meeting this girl and was told that in Ireland, because of the sexual scandal, the trust the Irish previously had towards priests has greatly diminished. .

The priest, in a bulletin written for Korean priests, had a great deal to say about this issue in Korea in comparison both to what it was a few years ago and to what exists in other countries.

A priest who lives in the Netherlands, told him he no longer introduces himself as a priest. Even in the States, where priests were respected for years, bishops and priests don't feel the same walking in their clericals. The sexual scandals have changed the environment for all Catholic clergy. China and Russian and other countries under communist rule, because of their indoctrination, have never been friendly to the clergy. Religion was seen as the opium of the people and priests lived, as they saw it, by exploiting this deception.

Another priest mentioned going to the American Embassy for a visa and being given a rather difficult time during the questioning by a young woman employee. He had mentioned he was a Catholic priest; with a sarcastic look on her face, she said: " Do you want me to believe all priests are to be trusted?"

In the world today--outside of Korea, the Philippines, Africa and South America--there are few countries, besides the poorer ones, where the priest would receive respect because of his position.

Korea, however, is a country where priests still receive this respect. Financially, in comparison to many other Catholic countries, Korea treats their priests with great generosity. In 1980 a survey was taken on what occupations in our society the Koreans found most trustworthy, Catholic priests were listed as number one. This is no longer true, according to the priest; Buddhism is ready to ready to take the Church's place.

In Korea Americans and Westerners are still respected. Koreans have accepted the culture and religion from the West and their missionaries. Elder priests, especially, have helped to set a good example. During the years of totalitarian rule many of the priests went to prison for protesting the repressive regime when many citizens found it difficult to speak out. This speaking out for justice and truth has remained in the hearts of Koreans.

Overall, religion is greatly respected by an overwhelming majority of Koreans. One of the reasons is the history of the Catholic Church in Korea. A great deal of suffering and sacrifice were necessary to maintain one's faith during those early years. This is still a vivid memory of our Catholics; hard to imagine that this will change, but public opinion is not easy to determine.

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